In the News Ten Years Ago

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Last week we decided to take a little break from the world of multi-core processors, broadband-speed wireless data, and tiny screens with more pixels than our living room TVs to take a glimpse five years into the past and see what smartphones were in the news then. This industry moves fast, and even just going that far back, it was clear that we were looking at night and day in terms of how the technology’s evolved.

Today we’re going to step things up a notch and push even further back, checking out what was making news at this time ten years ago, in 2003. So, let’s all saunter into the WABAC Machine, flip on the flux capacitor, or crawl into the coffin-shaped box filled with argon, and get started with our trip back in time.

Diddle liddle la, diddle liddle la, diddle liddle la

Diddle liddle la, diddle liddle la, diddle liddle la

When we looked five years back, we were already in the days of the first iPhone, and Android had yet to even hit the scene. In 2003, even the iPhone is still a dream in the minds of Apple engineers, and we are looking at a landscape dominated by Windows Mobile (or, rather, Pocket PC). Frankly, we’re not even in smartphone territory anymore; though a few early models were around, these were the days of the PDA.

In 2003 at Pocketnow, we were very much interested in GPS technology. Of course, this being 2003 and all, we were still quite a way’s away from having tiny GPS receivers built right into our phones, and instead were using bulky external GPS modules.

In particular, we were impressed with the new DeLorme Earthmate receiver, loving how small it was at ONLY about 2 x 2 x 1 inches. It wouldn’t even do Bluetooth without an adapter, so you’d end up tethering it via cable to your PDA. I’ve still got one of these lying around somewhere, though it’s been ages since I actually tried to find my location with it.

earthmate

We were also doing some reviews of GPS software, and looking back on it now is bringing up some not-so-warm memories of just how much setup used to be involved. Before we had such convenient access to wireless data, remember having to pick-and-choose which map packs you’d need to load onto your GPS, trying not to deplete all of your PDA’s storage while still having access to the maps you’d really need?

gps-maps

And it was just oh, so easy to see what was going on with those low-res screens.

And it was just oh, so easy to see what was going on with those low-res screens.

What do you need to take with you when traveling with your smartphone? Your charger? Maybe a case? Possibly even a little Bluetooth keyboard? In early 2003 we checked out a new carrying case for PDAs, giving us a bit of a window into just how much crap we needed to lug around back then. Chargers and keyboards still make an appearance, but few of us are going to be carting around external GPS adapters, Compact Flash cards, or the PCMCIA reader we’d need to access those cards on a laptop.

unloaded

In technology news, we had just learned of the end of Intel’s StrongARM chips, which were being phased-out in favor of the company’s XScale processors. We may complain about USB On-The-Go being a pain to use on current smartphones, but at least it’s there; back in 2003 you’d have to take up your phone’s Compact Flash slot (hope you didn’t also need GPS working at the same time) to use an adapter like this one from RATOC Systems, giving you some blazing-fast USB 1.1 speeds.

cfu1u

To this day we still fear the dreaded phone update that will unintentionally make things worse, and the situation was very much the same in 2003. We had just heard about an update for iPAQ 395x Pocket PCs that had the unintended consequence of underclocking the 400MHz processor down to a sluggish 300MHz – a 25% performance hit. Luckily, a fix was available, but it seems that updates got the same “rigorous” testing back then as many still do presently.

Bluetooth is just second-nature to expect on smartphones today, and millions of us use some sort of Bluetooth gadget on a daily basis. Back in the long-long-ago, we weren’t entirely convinced that the then-new Bluetooth was a technology we even liked in the first place, taking issue with complicated profile system, the nature of PIN-based pairing, and an annoying need to reset some PDAs after trying to turn Bluetooth on.

This is all just scratching the surface. If you’re interested in seeing more about what was going on with mobile electronics ten years ago, do what I did and hop on over to Archive.org, where you can check out a number of snapshots of Pocketnow as it existed all the way back then. You’ll likely spot some familiar names, and may even come across an old PDA you used to have that really strikes a nostalgic chord. If you stumble across anything particularly interesting, post about it here in the comments to share with the rest of us!

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!